While the first three starters of the 2012 edition of the Red Sox are all established, excellent pitchers, the last two are another matter entirely. At the end of last season, the 2012 rotation was set to be Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey, and Matsuzaka. But Matsuzaka’s return from Tommy John surgery is likely to prevent him from pitching until June, and Lackey was revealed to undergo the same procedure right after the season which will cause him to miss the entire 2012 season. A textbook case of addition by subtraction, really.
The two cases of Tommy John surgery opens up two slots in the rotation and unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Boston media has full on hit the panic button. Ben Cherington, completely handcuffed by the ownership made only token offers to Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt and instead hit the bargain bin and signed a series of what his predecessor referred to as “low-risk high-reward” signings. That basically means that he signed a ton of pitchers who are either washed up or never lived up to their potential and hopes that one of them will pan out.
Given that Daniel Bard is the likely fourth starter, having converted to a starter after three dominant seasons out of the bullpen, there is only one spot in the rotation left open. Injuries, mostly minor, have left only a few likely candidates for the remaining slot and so we’ll take a look at those who are still in the running.
In what was apparently a salary dump, Ben Cherington traded Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for Aaron Cook. While the merits of trading your starting shortstop for a hopeful fifth starter with a career 4.53 ERA and who went 3-10 with a 6.03 ERA last year are rather questionable, Cook is now in the running for the fifth spot. Red Sox fans may remember Aaron Cook as the man who pitched game four of the 2007 World Series for the Rockies. Primarily a sinkerball pitcher, he also features a workable slider and an occasional curveball. Cook’s best year was undoubtedly 2008 in which he went 16-9 with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.344 WHIP, which earned him a spot at the All-Star game. That said, he’s been on a slide every year after that with his ERA increasing by almost a run each year. Leaving Coors field and moving to a different league may help him a little, but I still don’t expect Cook to contribute very much to the team. At best, he may be a functional fifth starter, what he has been for pretty much his whole career. At 33, he’s not going to get much better.
The Red Sox signed the former first round pick last year and became enamored with his stuff. Bringing him up to fill in an injury rattled rotation, Miller met mixed results. The 6’7 left hander’s best start came August 25 against the Texas Rangers in which he went 6.1 shutout innings against the Texas Rangers giving up only three hits, walking two, and striking out six. His worst start was his next, a week later also against the Rangers in which he went only one out into the second inning and was shelled for six runs before being pulled. All told he finished last year with a 6-3 record and a 5.54 ERA. The potential is there for Miller. His fastball hits 95, but flattens out and becomes difficult to control at that speed. His secondary pitches, a slider and a rare changeup, also have promise but he sometimes loses all ability to locate them. Control is probably his biggest issue; he has a 5.4 BB/9 career rate. He’s only 26, so he has growing to do, but he’s had 6 seasons in the league now and has failed to post an ERA under 5 in all but one season. The window is closing on Miller and as he ages he will go from untapped talent to washed-up. Also hurting Miller’s case is an elbow sprain that has kept him from the spring games. Will he finally live up to that potential this year?
Seems like Padilla has been around forever doesn’t it? At 34, without a doubt the firey Nicaraguan’s best days are behind him. The last time he was an All-Star, the best players on the Sox were still Nomar and Pedro. Still, perhaps the front office is attempting to emulate the necromantic success the Yankees had last season when they were able to call forth the careers of Colon and Garcia from beyond the grave. To be fair, Padilla has had a better history of success than Cook or Miller. From 2002-2003 he won 28 games with 261 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.45 to go with a nice 1.227 WHIP. He was the Dodgers opening day starter as recently as 2010 and he is certainly entertaining, if nothing else. Padilla throws a good fastball that sits around 93-94 to go with a 70 mph curve and, best of all, a 50 mph eephus pitch. That’s correct ladies and gentlemen, Padilla will occasionally loft up a 50 mph offering in hopes of freezing the batter. Hey, it worked beautifully against Mauer back in Padilla’s spring debut on March 5th. The biggest issue with Padilla, other than his age of 34, is that he has a bad attitude. He lead the league in hit batsmen back in ’06 and his antics on the mound have started more than one fight. Other than that, he’s had trouble staying healthy and has only started 16 games in the past two years. Best case scenario? He throws a 4.25 ERA, wins 10 games, and only starts one or two fights. Hopefully with the Yankees. For a 5th starter, I’ll take that any day.
An outside shot at the rotation, Tazawa, unlike the previous pitchers mentioned here, could actually be considered a prospect. Dominating in the Japanese Corporate league after high school, Tazawa skipped the Nippon Professional Baseball draft in order to come directly to America and signed with the Sox at the tail end of 2008. During the injury-plagued 2009 campaign, he went on to start a few games for the Sox, the highlight being six shutout innings against the Yankees with only two walks and two Ks on August 22. Tazawa also made a few relief appearances last year, having missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His stuff is promising, he throws a low nineties fastball, with fairly good command, an average curveball, a slider, and a forkball that can be devastating. If Tazawa can stay healthy and avoid the Daisuke issue of nibbling at the plate, he can be an effective 5th starter. If not, it will be back to the minor leagues for some more seasoning, where he has performed very well thus far. He is, after all, only 25.
Last but not least is my favorite to make the rotation, Felix Doubront. The Red Sox seem to like the cut of this tall left hander with the 94 mph fastball. Doubront has shown promise; he posted a 4.32 ERA back in 2010 over 12 games including 3 starts and averaged a promising 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year he met with a few hiccups in relief, ending with a 6.10 ERA, yet he only pitched 10.1 innings and if you take away the September 4 appearance against Texas, his ERA becomes 3.6. Other than a good fastball, Doubront throws an impressive changeup and a curveball that is absolutely filthy when he can control it. If Valentine is smart he’ll hang on to Doubront and if I were in charge he’d be my pick for the 5th starter. While Padilla might fare better, Doubront has more potential and is still only 24. It’s hard to make a prediction for a guy who’s only made three career starts, but I firmly believe that if he becomes everything he can, he could one day be a solid 4th or 5th starter for the Red Sox. Heck, he may even become a 3rd starter one day.